Spoilers are not doing any more weird stuff.
This is not an easily accessible movie. I can say that, because I myself didn’t find it easy to watch. That’s not because it’s cringy or gross, it’s more due to its lack of… Okey, we’ll get into that. I can recognize David Cronenberg is saying something with this feature, and it’s an rare and experimental way to say it. Unfortunately, this movie is one of a select few that falls into the most infamous category that I’ve accidentally created. I’m ashamed to confess, I’ve fallen asleep watching this film.
Naked Lunch (1991) was written and directed by David Cronenberg. The screenplay is based on the novel by William S. Burroughs. The protagonist, Bill Lee (Peter Weller) has a sordid past and now feels he has put his life back in order, getting married and working as a bug exterminator. His wife, Joan (Judy Davis) seems to have gotten addicted to using the powder mix he uses to spray as a drug. A series on events will be put in motion (this is the most honest way to say it) that will cause him to abandon the so-called real world and escape to the Interzone.
I have to be ambivalent about how events transpire in this film because as you will find out if you watch it, everything that happens seems to be a meta interpretation of reality. Bill is often presented as having a particular role and denying the fact that he could be something else. He starts by telling his buddies, who appear to be writers, that he is not a writer nor he would be. Then again, that’s what he becomes. He also frequents a bar that caters to homosexuals and denies being one, although he later admits to it. He also might be some sort of operative working for a bug faction. Then again the one thing he also happens to be, is a drug addicted. For all we know, it’s all a trip.
I will admit that the movie flies over my head. I can recognize that Cronenberg is using a lot of symbolism. Bill is a writer, spy, closeted homosexual, drug addict and perhaps he’s even a murderer. A lot of what is shown in the movie is the way that Bill is seeing the world rather than what’s actually happening, and I can recognize the brains in devising the ways to craft such an cinematic allegory. However, this all comes with an rather steep price tag: a lack of engagement value.
I don’t mind a movie with a nonsensical plot. I can even forgive a movie that flies above my head (insert obligatory reference to David Lynch here). I have even been able to sit down movies that challenge me to the point I squirm in my seat. But a movie that is dull is probably the worst thing. You can walk out of movies that you despise. A movie that has an engagement value of zilch I can’t quite stomach. I did literally fall asleep about halfway in, and had to rewatch about thirty minutes while pinching myself awake.
I’ve sat through movies that are not entertaining in the traditional sense. They can be slow burns, they can be despicable, they can cringe, they can even make me want to walk away. Those might be hard sells to engage the audience, and might even turn them off. They can be challenges to watch, specially when they trigger negative responses. I don’t necessarily need a movie to be amusing, but I do expect it to meet me halfway in keeping my attention. I know that probably says more about me than the film.
Recommended only for film scholars and cult film followers. It does have experimental value for a niche audience that appreciates the craft that goes into bringing this vision to the screen. Audiences expecting to be entertained should stay far, far away. I have seen experimental films that go completely over my head but somehow inject at least a pinch of flavour to keep me watching. That’s just me though.
That will do for now.